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Tuesday, January 03, 2012

Animal Studies: All The Rage On College Campuses

                    Photo courtesy of The New York Times
It's good to know that the study of other animals is starting to move out of the science labs and into the lecture halls of the humanities. According to this article in the Science Section of today's New York Times
the idea that other animals were tested on, dissected and/or studied exclusively in science classes is becoming old school. Now, our fellow creatures are dissected in a different way-the integral nature of their role in the lives of humans is discussed in literature and philosophy classes. At the University of Colorado, for example, the still undefined field of "animal studies" can include "anything that has to do with the way humans and animals interact-like art, literature, sociology, anthropology, film, theater, philosophy, religion-there are animals in all of them."

This trend ("It's not yet a field, [but] an emergent scholarly community") indicates to us that our society is evolving. Just think about how differently most of us value and treat our companion animals today, than we did just 30 years ago: we now care as a society how many dogs and cats are killed each year in shelters, and there are a plethora of worldwide campaigns to reduce this number to zero. For most of us, our dogs and cats have an official "seat at the table", so to speak, as members of our family, and are treated as such. Who would have thought even 20 years ago that veterinary clinics would establish cancer wings, and pet "parents" would spend thousands on surgery and chemotherapy to keep their precious four-legged companions with them for a few more years?  And don't get us started on high-end pet products-we love it all!

The article also credited Jane Goodall, one of our heroes, with easing us into this enlightened way of viewing other animals "when she first showed the world a social and emotional side of chimpanzees that made it almost impossible to keep them on the other side of the divide." And Wesleyan University together with the "Animals and Society Intitute" (only founded six years ago), has recently developed a summer fellowship program in animal studies. The coordinator of this program, Lori Gruen, said that "one of the major questions in philosophy was 'Who should we direct our moral interests to?' Thirty years ago, animals were at the margins of philosophical discussions of ethics; now 'the animal question is right in the center of ethical discussion.' "

We hope you enjoy this article and its thought-provoking discussion as much as we did. Those who are interested in exploring this topic in greater detail can check out the "Animals and Society Institute".


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